Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned that any countries attempting to interfere in Ukraine would be faced with a swift response from Russia.
He also said all decisions on how Moscow would react in that situation have already been taken.
Addressing lawmakers in St Petersburg, Putin said the West wanted to cut Russia up into different pieces and accused it of pushing Ukraine into conflict with Russia.
Meanwhile, European leaders denounced Russia’s attempt to “blackmail” Ukraine’s allies over gas supplies, as Western sanctions batter the Russian economy already struggling with its worst crisis since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine said Europe should stop depending on Russia for trade after it halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland for not paying in roubles, as the shutoff exposed the continent’s weaknesses and divisions on Wednesday.
Germany, the biggest buyer of Russian energy, hopes to stop importing Russian oil within days, but warned a Russian energy embargo or blockade would tip Europe’s largest economy into recession. Read full story
A Russian economy ministry document indicated that Russia’s economy could shrink by as much as 12.4% this year, further evidence that foreign sanctions were taking a heavy toll. Read full story
Foreign sanctions have frozen about $300 billion of the roughly $640 billion that Russia had in its gold and foreign exchange reserves when it invaded Ukraine. Russia is also struggling with soaring inflation and capital flight, while grappling with a possible debt default due to the sanctions.
Gazprom GAZP.MM, Russia’s gas export monopoly, suspended gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland on Wednesday for not paying in roubles, as stipulated in a decree from Russian President Vladimir Putin that aims to soften the impact of sanctions.
“The sooner everyone in Europe recognises that they cannot depend on Russia for trade, the sooner it will be possible to guarantee stability in European markets,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late on Wednesday.
While the president of the European Commission said Gazprom’s suspension was “yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail”, EU member state ambassadors asked for clearer guidance on whether sending euros breached sanctions.
France will host a meeting of EU energy ministers on May 2.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia remained a reliable energy supplier and denied it was engaging in blackmail.
He declined to say how many countries had agreed to pay for gas in roubles but other European customers said gas supplies were flowing normally.
Canadian lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to call Russia’s attacks in Ukraine a “genocide”, with members of parliament saying there was “ample evidence of systemic and massive war crimes against humanity” being committed by Russia.
The Canadian parliament said in a motion war crimes by Russia include mass atrocities, wilful killing of civilians, the desecration of corpses, forcible transfer of children, torture, physical and mental harm, and rape. Read full story
The invasion of Ukraine which started on Feb. 24 has reduced towns and cities to rubble and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad in a conflict that has prompted fears of wider conflict in the West, unthought-of of for decades.
Russia calls it a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and it denies targeting civilians. Ukraine and its allies call the war an unprovoked act of aggression.